Originally created 01/09/98

Monsanto looks at restructuring



ST. LOUIS -- Monsanto Co., which last year shed its chemical business to focus on life sciences, is weighing even more restructuring.

The St. Louis-based company, which has non-Solaris plants in Augusta, said Thursday it is considering several alternatives for its Solaris lawn-and-garden division. Those options include a partnership, restructuring or even getting rid of the business altogether.

Solaris, based in San Ramon, Calif., has about 400 employees in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. The company makes and sells the Ortho line of lawn and garden herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

Monsanto president Hendrik A. Verfaillie said Solaris has experienced strong sales growth since Monsanto bought it four years ago. However, Merrill Lynch analyst Douglas Groh said Monsanto hasn't gotten the return on Solaris it had hoped for.

"Now with their focus on life sciences, they want to use the capital to grow in that business," Mr. Groh said.

Mr. Verfaillie said Monsanto needs to "focus on those opportunities with the greatest long-term potential and strategic fit."

"Solaris is a considerable force in the lawn-and-garden business, and we're considering alternatives that would allow it to reach its full potential, either with Monsanto or with another company," Mr. Verfaillie said.

No timetable was set for a decision on Solaris.

Monsanto makes products ranging from artificial sweeteners to Roundup herbicide.

In September, Monsanto completed the spinoff of its chemicals business into a separate company known as Solutia Inc. Last month, Monsanto announced it was forming an alliance with IBM aimed at speeding research into genomics. Genomics can be used for everything from isolating genes that cause or prevent diseases to developing plants that yield healthier oils.

Mr. Groh said further changes at Monsanto wouldn't surprise him.

"The food ingredients business has not lived up to some of the returns that management is targeting, so it's not inconceivable to see pieces sold or spun off," he said.